Everyday Gardeners

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Flowering Shrub

ablogYou’ve probably never heard of Spring Meadow Nursery, a great company in beautiful Western Michigan, but I bet you’ve heard of some of their plants: ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, Sugar Tip rose of Sharon, Pinky Winky hydrangea, Blue Chiffon rose of Sharon (shown here), Incrediball hydrangea, Bloomerang lilac, Quick Fire hydrangea, and Summer Wine ninebark are a few of the shrubby garden superstars they’re responsible for introducing.

I went on a tour of their nursery over the weekend and I’ve come home even more excited about using flowering shrubs in the garden. Want more color in your landscape? These plants make it easy! Try growing a sun-loving Limelight hydrangea as a small tree next to your deck, creating a hedge of rose of Sharon for privacy, or including a flowering quince in your cutting garden.

Incorporate compact shrubs in your perennial beds so you have winter structure and an extra season of interest. Amethyst coral berry (Symphoricarpos), for example offers pinky-purple fruits in fall; Arctic Sun redtwig dogwood bears bold reddish stems in winter; and Snow Day Surprise pearlbush (Exochorda) bursts into bloom in early spring. All dwarf (5 feet tall or less) so they’ll fit right in among purple coneflower, Joe Pye weed, and hollyhock.

I know a lot of garders who like to separate their plants — perennials go in this bed, shrubs over there, and the like. But don’t be afraid to mix and match to create wonderful combinations!

BTW: If you have a great perennial/shrub combo, I’d love to see it! Post it here!

Hibiscus syriacus 'Blue Chiffon'When we think about planting flowers in the garden, most gardeners gravitate toward annuals (the ones you plant every year) and perennials (the ones that come back on their own). But there’s another group of great plants that are often overlooked: flowering shrubs.

And that’s a shame, because there are many wonderful, easy-care shrubs that have attractive blooms. Take rose of Sharon, for example. The variety Blue Chiffon is shown here; it offers 3.5-inch-wide flowers from July to September here in Iowa. The shrub itself can get 12 feet tall, but you can keep it smaller by cutting it back in early spring. Its size makes it a good backdrop plant or even a delightful flowering hedge or spring/summer privacy.

Do a little research and you can find a plethora of flowering shrubs for just about any season, in sun or shade. Smaller varieties, such as caryopteris and dwarf weigela, are compact enough you can even plant them in among your low-growing perennials.

Here’s a quick calendar-type list of some of the flowering shrubs I use in my landscape to show how you can enjoy spring-to-fall color in your own yard.


Beautybush (Kolkwitzia)


Lilac (Syringa)



Mock orange (Philadelphus)

Hydrangea (Endless Summer types)

Mountain laurel (Kalmia)


Butterfly bush (Buddleja)

Hydrangea (Endless Summer types)

Hydrangea (oakleaf types)

Hydrangea (paniculata types)

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus)

Summersweet (Clethra)


Butterfly bush (Buddleja)


Hydrangea (Endless Summer types)

Hydrangea (paniculata types)

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus)


Butterfly bush (Buddleja)

Hydrangea (paniculata types)

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus)

Witch hazel (Hamamelis)

Hydrangea 'Little Honey'Hydrangeas are some of the most popular garden plants around — and for good reason. Most have gorgeous blooms and there’s a wealth of varieties, so you can find one for sun or shade, even in the North!

One of the most intriguing varieties is a golden-leafed oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’).

This little beauty has a lot going for it:

  • The bright chartreuse foliage looks awesome all spring and summer.
  • The leaves have incredible rosy-red fall color.
  • It blooms with white flower clusters for weeks in summer.
  • It’s a named selection of a North American native plant.
  • It has a dwarf habit (for oakleaf hydrangeas), growing only 4 feet tall and wide.
  • It loves a shaded or partially shaded spot.

This is a young specimen in the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. It’s just the second year it’s in the ground so it still looks a bit runty, but the golden foliage really lights up the corner it’s tucked into!

StreamAssetContentOrigIt looks like hydrangeas are going to be hot again this year! I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from readers about hydrangeas, we’ve been getting lots of questions about them in our Garden Doctor application, and we even have a brand-new downloadable booklet online on growing and caring for the plants.

If you have hydrangeas, here’s some information that’s handy to have now:

  • If you buy a florist hydrangea and would like to plant it outdoors, harden it off first by leaving it in a shady spot for a couple of hours a day. Then a few days later, leave it out for a few more hours. A few days after that, the plant will have toughened up and shouldn’t be too badly shocked when you plant it outside.
  • If you have the blue- or pink-flowering mophead or lacecap hydrangeas, don’t prune them now. They’ve already made this year’s flowers, so cutting them back could mean sacrificing the 2010 floral display. (The exception to this is reblooming hydrangeas like Endless Summer; they made some of their flowers last year, but will also make a lot more flowers on new stems this year.)
  • If you’re thinking about purchasing a hydrangea, be sure you select the right type for your conditions. The easiest way to have a terrible hydrangea experience is to pick the wrong variety for your spot.

Looking for more info? Check out our Plant Encyclopedia, hydrangea slideshow, and be sure to check out the new issue of Garden Ideas and Outdoor Living magazine, where my colleague Luke Miller produced a fun piece on hydrangeas that highlights some of the amazing variety this group of plants offers.

Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden manager Sandra Gerdes shared this photo of beautyberry (Callicarpa) after an ice storm.


What’s America’s favorite flower? Based on the amount of mail we get about them, I’d guess it’s hydrangeas. It’s not hard to see why, with their beautiful blooms. Add on the fact that hydrangeas are relatively deer resistant (I know there are lots of you out there who may disagree, but many gardeners do grow these shrubs without fear of seeing them mowed down by Bambi) and it’s like a match made in heaven.

If, that is, you choose the right varieties for you. There are several different kinds, and unfortunately none of them are one-size-fits-all plants. Here’s a quick cheat sheet on hydrangea types:

If you have sun, choose varieties of Hydrangea paniculata. They’re also a good bet if you live in a cold climate (Zones 3 or 4). Most are white, but some newer varieties like Quick Fire and Vanilla Strawberry have a red or pink blush.
If you want cut flowers, choose reblooming varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla. They’ll start producing flowers in June and usually continue through fall. Endless Summer is the classic type, but there are others such as the Let’s Dance series or Mini Penny if you look hard enough.
If you want a no-brainer, go with oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). This is the more carefree hydrangea I’ve ever grown, and it puts on the best fall show of any of my hydrangeas, too.

Interest piqued? Learn about other great types and varieties here!
By the way: What’s your favorite hydrangea? Share by commenting below!

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